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Pertussis (Whooping cough) immunization for pregnant women

​What is pertussis (whooping cough)?

Pertussis is an infection of the airways caused by bacteria. It’s also called the “100 day cough” as coughing can last for months.

How is pertussis spread?

Pertussis is easily spread by coughing, sneezing, or having contact with someone who’s infected. You can also get pertussis if you touch your eyes or nose after touching something that has the virus on it (such as toys or other things).

What are the symptoms of pertussis?

Symptoms include:

  • a mild (low) fever
  • runny nose
  • red, watery eyes
  • a cough

The cough gets worse over time and may last for weeks or months. A coughing spell may cause you to choke, throw up (vomit), and have trouble eating, drinking, and breathing. Very young babies may not cough but the infection can cause them to stop breathing.

How serious is pertussis?

Pertussis can lead to an infection in the lungs (called pneumonia). In rare cases, it can cause seizures, brain injury, and death. Babies have the highest risk of having a serious pertussis infection.

In Canada, 1 to 4 deaths are related to pertussis each year. These deaths are most often in babies who are too young to be immunized or children who haven’t had all of their immunizations.

Is pertussis in Alberta?

Yes, between 2009 and 2018, 3700 Albertans had pertussis. Of these, 116 were babies under 3 months of age.

Is there a vaccine that protects you from pertussis?

Yes, the dTap vaccine protects you from diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis.

Who should get a vaccine that protects against pertussis?

Everyone should get a vaccine that protects against pertussis.

Children get a vaccine that protects against pertussis as part of their routine immunizations at 2, 4, 6, and 18 months of age. They also get a follow-up (booster) dose at age 4 and again in Grade 9.

Adults get a booster dose of dTap every 10 years. If you’re pregnant, you need a dose of dTap each time you’re pregnant (even if it’s been less than 10 years since your last dose).

I’m pregnant. Should I get immunized against pertussis?

Yes, it’s important to get the dTap vaccine to protect you and your baby from pertussis while you’re pregnant.

The protection you get from the vaccine also crosses the placenta. This will protect your baby from pertussis during their first few months of life.

The best time to get the dTap vaccine is between 27 and 32 weeks of pregnancy. If you’re outside of this time, talk to your healthcare provider about when to get the dTap vaccine.

Is it safe to get the dTap vaccine while pregnant?

Yes. The dTap vaccine is safe for both you and your baby.

Where can I get the dTap vaccine?

You can get the dTap vaccine at public health offices and pharmacies. Some doctor’s offices also give the vaccine.

Ask your healthcare provider where to get the vaccine. The dTap vaccine is free.

What else can I do to protect myself and my baby?

Make sure everyone around you is also immunized against pertussis, especially those who live in your home.

Are there other vaccines I should get while I’m pregnant?

You should also get an influenza (flu) vaccine. You’re at a higher risk for serious complications from influenza when you’re pregnant. Influenza may also cause health problems for your baby.

For more information on influenza immunization in pregnancy, read the Alberta Health Services information sheet: Influenza Immunization for Pregnant Women, Breastfeeding Women, and Families with Newborns.

More information

Current as of: May 1, 2021

Author: Provincial Immunization Program, Alberta Health Services